Thursday, August 31, 2017

1983 Dodge 400 - Rest In Peace, Khan.

Something tells me that if I had been around during the time of the Model T I would have scoffed at the darn seeing how primitive and ugly it was. That would be a shame since I would be disrespecting one of the most seminal automobiles of all time but, hey, "Car Guy" here - we demand more from our rides than their just being basic transportation. Crazy Henry did sell a lot of T's though. Anyway, today we look at another seminal vehicle of sorts, part of the second round of the Chrysler "K cars" that helped save Chrysler, a 1983 Dodge 400.

You wouldn't be alone in never having heard of one of these as the Dodge 400 was only around for two model years and didn't exactly set the world on fire sales wise. Intended to be an upmarket version of the Dodge Aries K, it shared much with the very similar and equally as homely Chrysler LeBaron. The 400 was available only as a coupe.

Part of the allure of attempting to reach middle America and a wide swath of buyers was, allegedly, the K's simple, "honest" styling. I get that, to a certain degree although I think they went a little too far and came up with something that looked like it came out of communist block country. Gussie it up like they did with 70's styling clichés and it always looked like a homely woman with too much makeup on. There had to have been styling wonks at Chrysler who felt the same way. I mean, seriously. Look at this thing. 

A fancier, plusher interior and with clichéd exterior styling touches like an "ego thrust" front end and a padded landau top and Ricardo Montalban had a car he might, might, have wanted decked out with Corinthian leather. For the record, Mr. Rork never pitched anything that wasn't branded a "Chrysler" although he did hawk other Chrysler products that weren't Cordoba's. Who could ever forget his series of Chrysler New Yorker ads; the car that talks!  Scoff at my beloved Cordoba as you will, at least "our cars" looked like something other than a tissue box on wheels. Even the dreadful 1980-1983 models. Rest in peace, Khan. We miss you. 

Chrysler pulled the plug on the 400 after 1983 although it's lilliputian corporate cousin Chrysler LeBaron soldiered on through 1986 before it was redesigned with the jelly bean body that it was most famous for. Chrysler chose to focus their upmarket Dodge Aries K aspirations on the "600", something that was, remarkably, even homelier than the Dodge 400. Built off what was essentially a stretched wheel base K, the "E platform" 600 soldiered on through 1988 before being replaced by another oddly proportioned K car derivative, the Dodge Dynasty. 

Much like the Ford Model T, the charm and appeal of all K cars is lost on me and anyone, I believe, who looks at automobiles as something more than mere appliances. All of them, perhaps with the exception of the jelly bean body LeBaron, are just plain terrible looking, handling and cheaply assembled automobiles. Yet people bought them hand over fist. Just like they bought Crazy Henry's Model T. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

1979 Buick Electra - Greek Tragedy

For years, Buick named their top of the line model after a character in Greek mythology. Meaning "sparkling" in English, sparkling could describe some of the more overtly styled Electra's from the 50's and 60's but chances are GM's marketing department believed that "Buick" and "Electra" just sounded good together. Our very original 1979 subject here was part of the fifth generation of Electra's and was also part of General Motors famous downsizing regimen that begin in 1977.
Save for 1985-1990, Electra's were all about size and not necessarily about sparkle. With regards to size, originally, Buick marketed the top of the line Electra as the "two twenty five" denoting the car's length of 225 inches. While the lengths of Electra's fluctuated somewhat over the passing years, top of the line Electra's remained "225's".  Note - by 1979 Electra 225's had been relegated to the base model. A curious practice by General Motors wherein they would move top of the line models down on their pricing ladder or what was referred to as "debasing". Our subject is a mid level Electra Limited slotted between the base 225 and top of the line "Park Avenue"
The last 225 inch long Electra were the 1969 and 1970 models; starting in 1971 Electra's grew to 227 inches long. Government mandated safety bumpers pushed overall length to 232 inches by 1974. All but impossible to maneuver in parking lots for a person of average height, they also weighed more than 5,000 pounds and struggled to get 10 miles per gallon. The OPEC embargo of 1973 and subsequent gas price increases crushed sales of big cars and showed America just how reliant it was on foreign oil. While gas prices stabilized in the mid 1970's, GM got to work on putting their cars on a diet. Our '79 here, virtually identical to a 1977 model, is a foot shorter and 800 pounds lighter than a sparkling 1976 Electra.
The best part about the smaller full size cars was that they were just as spacious if not more so than the cars they replaced; they actually had a tad more hip and shoulder shoulder room in back. They sold well and GM's share of the market swelled to nearly 50% for 1979. Then, like a Greek tragedy, circumstances beyond GM's control like the ouster of the Shah of Iran, spun GM fortunes completely off course. So much so that it would appear that it's only recently that GM has gotten back on track; albeit a much smaller, downsized GM. Today, GM's market share is less than 20%. "Mikro" or "micro" is a greek term for smaller.

The Electra nameplate soldiered on through the 1980's at the top of the Buick heap even surviving the ignominy of the 1985-1990 front wheel drive years. Like a page taken out of a Greek tragedy, Electra was replaced by a sub model, "Park Avenue" for model year 1991.

Technically the C body, rear wheel drive Roadmaster replaced Electra as the top of the line Buick between 1991 and 1996.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

1972 Dodge Charger - Careful What You Wish For

I go back and forth between wanting to have been part of the generation that could have bought cars like this 1972 Dodge Charger brand new and feeling sorry for those that could. While I'm indifferent towards these big, swoopy, coke bottle body 1971-1974 Chargers, I applaud its devil may care form over function design. Seriously. Look at that blind spot. Insane. There were better looking cars out there in the early 1970's from General Motors that no doubt Chrysler was eyeballing when they came up with this design but this car highlights the fact that today's perfect if Prosaic automobile designs can't hold a candle to what Detroit came up with 45-60 years ago.

My twenty year old son is pretty crazy about old cars and we share the same sentiment about being born in the wrong era. He rolls his eyes when I tell him, though, that these were actually terrible cars; he thinks I'm just being cynical. In his almost five years of driving experience he's never had to experience a breakdown out on the road or even cold weather starting. Turn the key and go is all he's ever known. And that's saying an awful lot considering the 1996 Camaro he drives is even older than he is. And oh how we scoffed at electronic engine controls and fuel injection back in the day.

Charger was all new for 1971 and rode on an updated version of Chrysler's intermediate B body platform that had been their full size platform between 1962 and 1964. The best looking and most valuable Chargers are the 1968-1969 models which gained a lot of fame from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Dodge mucked up the design for 1970 before they jumped the shark completely in 1971 with this thing. Side note, on the Dukes of Hazzard, when the availability of 1968-1969 Dodge Chargers became scarce, producers of the show started using 1970 Chargers with trim pieces salvaged from wrecked 1968-1969 Chargers.

The engines were carry for 1971 but things changed for 1972 when Chrysler increased the bore on the venerable 383 pushing overall capacity out to 400 cubic inches. Blame ever increasing federal regulations. Ordered to reduce tail pipe pollutants, The Big Three dropped compression. To off set the drop in power that came with the drop in compression, they increased the size of their engines. That did nothing for gas mileage of course but at least buyers couldn't tell that their new car had less go than their old car. At least for a while. As the '70's droned on it became increasingly hard for The Big Three to hide the fact that engine performance was not what it used to be.


No doubt my son would swoon over this baby blue Charger (horrible color) and go on and on about how boring today's cars are. I look at these cars now and wonder how people used them as daily drivers. They're so big for being big's sake (this is a "mid size" car too), handle and brake horribly, fall apart just sitting there and inhale gas worse than today's biggest SUV's. No wonder the first energy crisis in October of 1973 was such an eye opener but what did American's know? What they deserved were better cars and most of them would have readily signed on the doted line for a vehicle that had less style and was more reliable and got better mileage. Careful what you wish for.

I forget where I found our subject here but it's for sale for around $35,000. Hardee. Har-har. Kid you not. That's a lot of money for an American car of this vintage that's not a Corvette and for anything made after 1967. What's more, it needs a power train swap and a suspension upgrade just to make it drive-able. I'd keep it stock looking but modernize everything else about it. How much would that run? Probably about $35,000. Now I'm feeling sorry for my bank account.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

1973 Ferrari 246 GTS - Grazie, Papa

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to date, marry or even have just a friendship with a celebrity, own an old sports car. The amount of attention celebrities and flashy cars get is absurd. And after five years of ownership of a 1977 Chevrolet Corvette I can tell you that owning one in the long haul is not all it's cracked up to be. What people don't see is the relentless heart ache that that they can foster not to mention being scary expensive to maintain and repair. One more thing, you have to completely comfortable with being the center of attention. It's that way with our Corvette and I can only imagine that our experience is taken to an extreme when you own a 1973 Ferrari 246 GTS.

People go "ga-ga" over the appearance of cars like this without so much as a thought to how well or not it performs. Much like the way they lose the marbles over seeing a celebrity regardless of whether said celebrity is famous for anything really tangible or not. Now, with regards to this Ferrari, you can't blame people for going nuts. I mean, look at this thing. It makes our Corvette look like a shrinking wall flower. In my opinion it doesn't get much better than this. Again, I make the comparison between our Corvette and this Ferrari because if we get an inordinate amount of attention whenever we take our car out for a spin I can only imagine what driving this would be like. 

Then again this car should garner that much more attention than we get in our car given that this car is on the market for nearly $400,000. We paid roughly 2% of that, maybe, for our Corvette five years ago. I bet we drive our Corvette a whole lot more than the owner of this car would too; understandable given that a kicked up rock nicking the hood will drive resale value down tens of thousands.  

So, what is a Ferrari 246 GTS anyway? Well, to make a long story short, they were the first "mid-engined" Ferrari's. "Mid engine" meaning their engines were placed literally in the middle of the car. Having the engine in the middle of the car is said to be the best way to distribute weight evenly; that bodes well for performance. What's more, they were the first Ferrari's to be powered by something other than a V-12 engine. In the case of our 246 here that's a 195 horsepower 2.4 liter double over head cam V-6 behind the passenger seat. The legendary founder of Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari, incidentally, was not a fan. 

He was so much not the fan at first that he wouldn't allow them to be called "Ferrari's". He relegated them them to the discount rack and ordered them festooned with just engine nomenclature and the name "Dino". Dino was the nickname for his son Alfredo who was a lead engineer on these cars and who also pioneered it's V-6 engine.  

After the Dino's most successful launch in 1967, when they were updated with a larger engine for 1969, the elder Ferrari allowed them to be called "Ferrari's". Grazie, Papa. 

Only about 3,500 of these cars were produced between 1969 and 1973 and that, combined with their fantastic good looks and the fact it's a Ferrari, drives their meteoric asking prices. The best part is that these cars are actually terrific drivers and are said to be the best over all performing Ferrari's of all time.

High praise considering the near perfection of the driving experience of modern Ferrari's. Even if 195 horsepower propelling just 3225 pounds puts this car in line with the power to weight ratio of our Corvette. Sacrilege. Indeed. 

In a world where people can be "Insta-Famous" and social media stars with having done little to be so, an automobile like the Ferrari 246 GTS can get very similar amounts of attention. The difference is, of course, this Ferarri deserves the attention it gets because not only is it stupefyingly gorgeous from every angle, it's, again, a magnificent performance car. By contrast, our Corvette, like social media stars, is nothing but famous. Trust me on that one. 

Maintaining a Ferrari, just like a Corvette to a great degree, is not for the faint of heart. You can't just take one of these to Midas for an oil change and a brake job. Much like you really can't take your celebrity spouse or friend to a McDonald's for dinner. As far as getting attention goes, well, given that most people have no idea what this car is, my wife and I will stick with our Corvette. It doesn't perform nearly as well but if it gets the same amount of "oh wow's" from people, not that we bought it for that, we'll stick with it and save hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Ciao bella.